After falling short in its quest for a berth in the state tournament last season, the Pickerington American Legion Post 283 baseball team had hopes of returning to state this season.

After falling short in its quest for a berth in the state tournament last season, the Pickerington American Legion Post 283 baseball team had hopes of returning to state this season.

Second-seeded Post 283 earned that berth by steamrolling through the District 8 tournament, capped by a 14-4 seven-inning win over top-seeded Lancaster Post 11 last Saturday at Beaver Field in Lancaster.

"I believed we were the favorites just because I believe in my kids," said coach Chris Weber, whose team was 35-7 before playing the Licking County A's last Tuesday. "Lancaster is a great team, but I thought we were going to win it."

Post 283 will open the state tournament Monday in Athens. It will be making its sixth trip to state and second in the last three years.

"This is a great opportunity for the kids," Weber said. "They're going to be seen by a large number of college guys. They're going to have a chance to produce on a big stage. More than anything, the deeper you go the greater it gets, just overall the experience. The way teams come together, you're creating a lifetime of memories."

Two years ago, Post 283 finished third in the state tournament, falling to eventual champion Beverly-Lowell Post 389/750 10-7. Post 283 was 43-9 overall.

Last season, Post 283 finished 35-18 overall and 7-3 (third) in the league behind champion Athens Post 21. Post 21 eliminated Post 283 from the district tournament 11-8 in the losers bracket final.

Weber expects a big challenge when the state tournament begins. The first-round pairings will be determined Sunday during the tournament's annual dinner.

"All of the teams are the teams to beat," Weber said. "If you get one kid that has a lights-out day on the mound, he can beat anybody. One pitcher can change this entire tournament for a favorite team."

Post 283 used a blend of solid pitching, hitting and defense to earn another district title.

Against Lancaster, it scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back. Matt Lott and Rob Howell had consecutive doubles with two outs and Andy Mix hit a two-run home run.

"Two-out runs are like gold," Weber said.

Mix also singled and drove in three runs. Chance Moore, Lott, Howell and Jared Whittington had two hits.

Left-hander Jared Meyer went the first four innings, with Jake Russell pitching the final three.

Post 283 reached the final after a 10-4 win over Meigs Post 128 on July 23. Howell earned the win, giving up two hits in 8 1/3 innings. He helped his cause with three hits, including a home run. Kevin Castle added a triple and two RBI.

"This is our primary goal every year," Castle said of the state berth. "The second goal is to get 40 wins before 10 (losses), but our first is to win state. We have to get solid pitching and defense. Our hitting is going to be there, but we have to get defense."

"There were a few handshakes, a few hugs and a lot of smiles, but it wasn't the dogpile on the pitcher's mound," Weber said of the post-game celebration. "I am not an egotist. I'm not dumb enough to believe that we're good enough to walk through the state, but that's our goal, to win the state. I imagine the celebration would grow immensely should we do that. We've talked about that from day one. Our goals are to win the league, win the district and then win the state."